When Asia Was the World

In This Review

When Asia Was the World

By Stewart Gordon
Da Capo Press, 2007
228 pp. $26.00
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With the fall of Rome, Europe entered the Dark Ages, and Asia became the center of world trade, culture, religion, and urban development. Gordon seeks to capture the spirit of the era of Asia's greatness by personally traveling to the ruins. He does not dwell on the well-known features of Asia's contribution to world history, such as the invention of the concept of zero, but rather focuses on what was distinctive about Asian societies. Each of Gordon's chapters takes up an important topic in Asian history. Thus, the first reviews the spread of monasteries and the cultural importance of the Silk Road. This is followed by chapters dealing with the spread of Islam and the role of intellectuals in advancing philosophy and medicine. The caravans that kept the different parts of Asia connected were huge enterprises of over 1,000 people and 3,000 animals. The main capital cities -- Baghdad, Beijing, and Delhi -- were larger and more impressive than any city in Europe at the time. Court life at the various levels of the empires and kingdoms was culturally and artistically sophisticated, and both Buddhism and Islam could at the time boast greater diversity in doctrine and organization than Christianity.